If you think lenses are everything you've got to read this......

I'm taking a break today to get an amazing amount of post production work done.  Tons of raw file conversions and retouches.   I'm happily slammed.  But I thought everyone who espouses the credo that camera bodies are meaningless and lenses are the holy grail, should read Ctein's column on TOP today.

Here's the link:  http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2010/08/lens-not-more-important.html

I've always believed that some cameras can be "great on paper" and still suck in your hands.  And vice versa......

    Go swim.


Ed Buziak said...

"I've always believed that some cameras can be "great on paper" and still suck in your hands."

That's funny... I just commented on Ctein's post, over at TOP, by mentioning the Contax (RX?) which literally did suck in one's hands... although it was the film being sucked against the pressure plate during exposures.

Craig said...

Well, I don't think lenses are everything. In fact, I thought the main point of the "Your camera doesn't matter" line was not to emphasize lenses, but to emphasize the photographer, his vision, and his skills with his tools. There are so many beginners out there who aren't happy with the pictures they take with a Rebel or a D40 and think that their work would be better if only they upgraded to a more expensive camera or switched from one brand to another. Saying to them, "Your camera doesn't matter" is not, I think, intended to be a technically completely accurate statement. It's intended to make the point that they should be focusing on improving their skills rather than obsessing over hardware.

Ctein makes some good points about how a poorly-made or out of adjustment camera can screw up pictures, but it's all basically irrelevant to what he's reacting against.

Geir said...

And my question is: If you have a ton of images to do post production on, how much pp time do you spend on each image, and how much batch processing do you do?
It would be very nice to hear about your post production workflow.

kirk tuck said...

I'll be happy to do a blog on post production but it's kinda like the Mark Twain quote about staying quiet and being thought an idiot rather than opening ones mouth and confirming it. I'm afraid you will find my postproduction so woefully at odds with the intense PP that seems to permeate the web like the smell of dead fish in a ventilator shaft.......I only know five or six things. Beyond that, my post production workflow is non-existent.

Kurt Shoens said...

Photoshop is simple! Curves, apply image, blur, unsharp mask, convert to profile, and shadow/highlights. Are we using the same set?

Ctein's column reminds me of a question I've wanted to ask you. In the past, you've described lenses as "wickedly sharp," "hyperbolically sharp," "almost illegally sharp," "amazingly sharp," "stunningly sharp," and, well, you get the picture.

For portraits, my entire approach has boiled down to "f/11 and deal with it." That is, I try various framing and apertures but when editing, it's a pretty tight frame and f/11 that wins me over. So I'm with you on sharp.

A commenter on Ctein's column had me thinking. He was talking about otherwise perfectly good images ruined (just spoiled) by a poor quality lens. I honestly can't recall ever seeing an image done by me or anyone else where I thought the limitations of the lens wrecked the picture. Putting aside cases where the camera doesn't have the low light chops for the available light, I can't think of images wrecked by the camera, either.

I'm not saying the converse. Certainly better lenses and cameras make images that look better. I just don't see their lessor cousins ruining good pictures.

Maybe I'm seeing images too small in magazine format or on the web. Putting aside the requirements of some of your commercial clients, what does your experience say?

kirk tuck said...

Kurt, try selling that "photoshop is simple" to someone else. Everyday someone wants to teach me how to do three layers of this with an inversion and a mask and a selection and an alpha mask and an extract tool followed by some liquify to fix something I'd be much better off reshooting.

As to lenses....you got me on the hyperbolic responses about sharpness but you have to admit I'm usually using "top of the barrel" lenses. The real deal about sharpness is when you move to the other end of the scale from f11 and try shooting more and more of your portraits at f2.8 and f4. Then it really does make a difference vis a vis lens quality.

I come from the darkroom in the studio days when we routinely printed 16x20 for some clients and I still do a lot of display prints for clients in larger sizes. You've got to push up past 11x14 to start seeing the real differences. A Canon 5d2 and a Phase One 45+ look the same up to around 12 by 18 but as you get bigger and bigger the Phase One looks better and better than the 5d. Same with lenses. I blew up an image from a Canon zoom that I like (the 24-105) and compared it with a similar image from a Zeiss 50mm ZE lens. In smaller sizes the files (both shot at 5.6 were equal in quality but as I enlarged them and printed them out the differences grew with the sizes of the prints. I think every photographer should take regular breaks from looking on the web and see the real thing. Had a friend who recently visited the National Portrait Gallery in London. Totally reset his thinking about print quality vs. web and what not.

Kurt Shoens said...

I'm not going to admit you use top-quality lenses. I'm going to state it outright! And I don't question your use of them, either. Nor do I question that you'll see the difference when images are printed large.

I'm more interested in the opposite end of that equation, which is whether pictures are ruined by optics (and cameras for that matter) that are merely middle of the road rather than the very best. Mind you, it's not going to stop me from pursuing sharper lenses and cameras. I love high image quality as much as the next guy.

On seeing images displayed in proper size, you are of course right and I need to do that more. I do wonder, again, about how image quality affects that experience. Anyone can see the quality differences that you've described close to the print. I've never seen this sort of technical comparison at large print sizes, but at a distance where you're far enough to take in the whole picture, how does it stack up? Are the technical quality differences muscled aside by the artistic values?

I see the portraits that you and others shoot at wide apertures and really appreciate them. I just don't like my own shot that way. I have lots of experiences like that. I now chalk them up to not being good enough to carry out techniques that better photographers succeed with. Maybe in the future.

I don't like Photoshop for fixing mistakes in my own work. I do like taking what the camera recorded (looks bad without some interpretation) and rendering it exactly as I want it. The basic principles of how to do that don't change much with the years.

Sure, there's today's look (often crossing over into illustration styles) and the actions/plug-ins/presets/etc one can buy. And the HDR thing. I don't have the taste or self-control to dabble in any of that.

Crina said...

this is a superb image
and now - off to read the article:)

efix said...

Thanks for pointing us to this article, Kirk - and as always a very good one from a man who's probably got more than enough experience to be able to talk about these things.

Funny that just recently another article was published, advertising the old credo "Lens = most important part" at The Phoblographer.

Ezequiel Mesquita said...

Awesome portrait Kirk! I like the expresion very much, and the transparency of the wetsuit shows enough to suggest without getting overboard. Delicate and provocative at the same time. Love the water that trickles away from the picture.

Dave Elfering Photography said...

I worked for NASA at one point flying spacecraft and doing three layers of crap in Photoshop is up there in my book in terms of WTF. Of course it also seems like a crime against nature, sort of like HDR :)

kirk tuck said...

Dave, as you can tell it's right in the same place in my book as well. Mask my .........

John Krumm said...

I think I mentioned before a local guy who shoots old glass plate cameras (some French box) and 3x4 feet prints made from scans of those are amazing. I tend to print my 4/3 stuff (620 now with the high grade lenses) at 11 x14 for the large size. I've printed as large as borderless 13x19 and they hold up surprisingly well (using a good printing program like Qimage) but they do look best at around 11x14, with maybe 12 x16 being the upper limit for a picky, perfect, put-your-nose-on-it print. For the photo books I like to make, they are perfect.

I've gotten a little lazier with Photoshop anything, and even with too much Lightroom. I tend to check things first in the sluggish Olympus Viewer, and if it's good that's gong to save me 15 or so slider decisions. But you have to love being able to dodge and burn in Lightroom.

Kurt Shoens said...

It's sort of ironic. Ctein, who wrote the article referred to in this blog post, also wrote the book Post Exposure. The book describes techniques for making prints from film.

Somehow back in the film era, getting the most out of a negative in a print was considered a worthy pursuit. With digital originals, such work has fallen into disrepute. A photographer I respect compared the digital equivalent to "Coating broccoli with caramel. Three D Mona Lisa. Colorizing the first half of the Wizard of Oz." Ouch.

With film, we didn't get the best results with machine prints. I cautiously suggest that the same might possibly be true with digital.

kirk tuck said...

In the film days I did just enough to let the paper reveal what the negative said. I didn't cover the prints with cotton candy and translucent oils and make it something it wasn't. I respected the nature of the frame. In that time it was considered wrong to "show your hand" and allow the audience to see directly what you had done. Our intent was for the content to grab their attention and any added artifice reinforce the transparency of the presentation.

It didn't colorize it. Or add a sound track. Or redraw the image. It's disingenuous to compare modern machine prints to those from negative. The camera files require matching to profiles and we shouldn't discount the need for simple burning and dodging or judicious color correction. Hell, I don't care if you paint the whole thing but it becomes something different than our current cultural understanding of what is a photograph. Work that goes beyond the intention of representation becomes photo illustration or just the substrate of a painter's canvas. And I'm not making value judgements about that......

I'm stating a personal disaffection for overt manipulation. It seems to reside in the provence of "hobby" and not "art".

Getting best out of a film negative rarely meant putting thirty shades of lipstick on a pig. We threw out the stuff that was subpar and needed excessive work.

Anonymous said...

I feel LENSES can do difference. But, of course, the soul of phtoographer is so very important
nice day

Kurt Shoens said...

We have common cause. I have not promoted the use of Photoshop for the purpose of overt manipulation. Instead I advocate the improvements that you describe for print: make a better realization of the negative and don't show your hand. The point is not to salvage a bad photo but to make a good photo better. Think of it as similar (not the same! please don't skewer me for this!) to the difference you described between the Canon 24-105 and the Zeiss ZE 50. I'll bet that the Canon lens made you a good image, but the Zeiss made a better one. That's all. No cotton candy, no colorization, no sound track.

The machine print metaphor means that some automatic process makes important decisions such as how to allocate contrast and detail. As the artist, I think you can do better. And I think you deserve more precise tools than programs like Lightroom offer.

Many photographers share your reservations about Photoshop. It just surprises me that people with the devotion to craft to consider a Leica S2 pass up the improvements available to them in PS.

That said, I'd rather be out in the sunshine taking pictures than in a room with subdued light slaving over the computer. I've only got the time and patience to fiddle with a few best images.

Brian Kim said...

The portrait is charismatic. It's telling.
I love looking at your people pictures.

For all I know you take thousands of images. But so many extend beyond the realm of camera. lens, or technique.

A little equipment, a little light, and a squeeze by the photographer. Moments.

Thank you for sharing.